Recently my brain has been stuck in the past, even as I 've been looking towards the future. I blame facebook and it's backward-looking ways; every time I think I've connected with every last possible person I've ever met, a new bumper crop sprouts up, and the instant I see their names I'm whisked back to my own prehistory. It's baffling. There are very few people in my past about whom I can accurately ask the question: "where are they now?" In my life I've moved around a lot, creating and losing connections in the process. I was never particularly good at identifying the people I wanted to keep in touch with, and then making the connection last. It's not that I don't have any longtime friends, I do - and I've reconnected with people from as far back as junior high in the past couple years in ways that are meaningful, but for the most part when I see the ghosts of my past popping up on facebook, I feel haunted.
At the same time, I've made new connections in the past couple of years that I hope to sustain. These two opposite-seeming strains feel very conflicting, but maybe they don't need to. Everyone ends up with a past, no matter how they live out their lives. I'm not quite sure what my point is, except to say that it's rather unlikely that I'll just happen to run into someone without some idea that they're in the area from their web presence. It's taken a lot of the mystery out of wondering what happened to people, and I hesitate to reconnect with them all. Sometimes the very image of someone I knew years ago can drag the river bottom of my memory, and the muck that gets dredged up is not always pleasant.
The upside of moving around a lot over the course of my life is that I've had the privilege of reinventing myself. There's no reinvention in the eyes of people who saw me as I was ten, fifteen, twenty or more years ago. Once you move away, you stay exactly as you were in the minds of the people you leave behind. It's bad enough going to a reunion where at least there's the chance that I can have a conversation with someone I once said or did something embarrassing or horrible to, and maybe come across as having grown and matured, but seeing a one inch square profile picture, paired with a status update and an "about me" section can be a tough icebreaker, at least in my experience.
For some reason I have been fixated on a girl from high school who didn't like me - it was mutual, and yet I find myself wanting to change her mind. Why this is important now, I couldn't tell you. She is connected to me through several other high school friends and acquaintances, all of whom appear to genuinely like her. In the years before facebook, I never would have thought about her; I know this to be true because in the years before facebook - I never thought about her. Not once. Now she's a constant nagging presence in my peripheral electronic vision. Why do I care? Why does this matter? In my mind, I've dredged up every memory I have of her, trying to pinpoint the moment that our mutual dislike became cemented, and to what end?
The reason I joined facebook in the first place was that a long lost friend I couldn't track down any other way had joined; we reconnected and began writing back and forth furiously, catching up on what had been almost twenty years of silence. Now, almost three years later, there are 241 people on my friends list, and I'd guess that I actively communicate with about a third of them. There are people from every corner of my past on that list, as well as my present. It's like a poorly organized wedding reception in need of table seating charts. Sometimes I think I should "clean house", go through my friends list and do some judicious pruning, but I simply can't bring myself to do it.